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‘Rookie’ Graeme McDowell still has to master Augusta

By Peter Hutcheon

Graeme McDowell is throwing the history book out the window as he bids to add the US Masters title to the US Open he won last June at Pebble Beach.

His record at the year's opening major is, so far, one to forget: Three appearances, one cut made with just eight competitive rounds.

“I feel like I'm going there this year like a rookie again,” he says.

“Albeit as a rookie who now knows a hell of a lot more about the golf course than he did when he first went there six years ago.

“I'm learning all the time and I'm going into the tournament with a totally open mind and my past performances there are completely irrelevant.

Wiping the slate clean and starting from scratch is a luxury golfers enjoy every week. Past performances and even a missed cut the week before count for nothing as they tee the ball up on the first tee.

“My memories of Augusta so far are not particularly outstanding because I don't have much to show for my golf there,” he says.

“The first time I went in 2005 I just remember feeling very lost on the greens and very much in awe of the place really.

“As far and pitching and putting around the greens I realised I had a lot to learn.

“That's what I've been working on hard this year and I feel that my short game is getting to the point now where I can have a lot of confidence with going into these greens.

“In the past I would have been a little scared to miss greens in the wrong places because I really wasn't sure if I had the short game skills to get the ball into position where I can make a bogey.”

McDowell travelled up to the Augusta National with Ian Poulter and Henrik Stenson for a practice round on Tuesday after he missed the cut at Bay Hill last week thanks to a horrendous opening round of 80.

“Poults and I had our dads with us and we played 27 holes and did a little work on the short game, bunker shots, that sort of thing,” he said. “It was a little bit of a waste of time because they've had a lot of rain there the past few weeks and it wasn't up to tournament speed.

“But it was about reminding yourself about the shape of the greens and the way the golf course plays.”

McDowell's mantra these days is the confidence he added to his game from his exploits at Pebble Beach and in guiding Europe to the Ryder Cup win at Celtic Manor which turned him into a force to be reckoned with.

And as he goes into the Masters as the world's fourth best player — one ahead of Tiger Woods — that hasn't done him any harm so far.

“I have the belief that if I can put myself into position at the weekend at the Masters I have the peace of mind and the ability to do the job,” he says.

“This is the last major I will play as the defending US Open champion except for defending that title at the Congressional. It's nice to go in there having that belief in your game.

“But you still have to go and do your job and Thursday and Friday is all about giving yourself a chance for the weekend.

“I'm going into Augusta very relaxed with zero expectations. I'm just going in there trying to enjoy the week and play the golf course as well as I can. I know if I play my best I've got a chance next week.”

McDowell reckons Rory McIlroy is going to be the man to beat next week at Augusta.

“I honestly do believe he is ready for a big week,” he says. “He drives the ball unbelievably well which is a key at Augusta.

“He has a great short game, even if he does say he doesn't work on it, and if he can get hot with the putter, I think he can have a great week.”

McDowell is renowned as one of the straighter hitters on tour, so it was something of a surprise when it was his long game which went awry on his way to a disastrous 80 in the first round last week at Bay Hill.

A subtle change to his swing over the winter, going back to drawing the ball from right to left off the tee instead of the cut he employed last year, was to blame.

“I had a long lay-off over the winter and maybe a few old bad habits crept back into my swing,” he says.

“I have always been a natural drawer of the ball and I had been working hard on trying to hit the other shot.

“Last week at Bay Hill was a little bit of a wake-up call for me. It's been a little bit of a stop start year but I think it's still been a good start to the year and I have no complaints.

“Still, I'm under no illusions that my game hasn't been in the best shape this last three or four weeks.

“I've worked so hard on my short game, my chipping and pitching, that I've got that sorted out and all of a sudden my long game been a little off.

“But I had a look at a couple of tee-shots I was concerned about on Tuesday, on two and on 13, and I was happy that I could just play my natural shot at both of them.

“It could be that an old bad habit ends up serving me very well next week.”

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